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One Week in October: A Look at the Arts at Dordt College

By Sally Jongsma

Art is a way of knowing the world,” says art professor Susan Van Geest. “The arts humanize. They help us see both literally and metaphorically. They allow us to view life from another’s perspective, to imagine, to question, to wonder.”

“I remember one student saying to me after reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, that simply reading the novel taught her more about race relations in America than a whole course she had taken on the topic,” says English professor James Schaap. He argues that literature draws us into the human condition better than any other force or institution or cultural medium.

“Part of being human is to put more of ourselves into a task than just the bare essentials,” adds music professor Robert Horton. He asks, “Why settle for a snapshot when you can compose a photograph? Why paint a house in off-white when you can create a palette of finishes and colors?”

Art professor David Versluis elaborates. “Psalm 104 praises God for the gifts of wine that gladden a person’s heart and oil to make the face shine, as well as bread to strengthen a person’s heart. We can thank God for providing gifts that go beyond the basics and that allow us to live more fully.”

According to Versluis, the psalmist suggests that as God rejoices in his creation, so we should also rejoice both in God and in his creation. Like the psalmist, who spends his lifetime praising God, our praise, through Christ, is made pure and becomes acceptable to God.

“The psalmist writer is a poet, a singer, a player, an artist,” says Versluis. “Perhaps we would do well to view the psalms more artistically and with playful insight. There seems to be a correlation between the gift of art and responding to God’s mercies and celebrating life. In Christ, art is not about luxury, but about service, obedience, and humility.”

The arts professors at Dordt shape their answers to “What makes art important?” in different ways, but all agree that it is one very important way we know, live, and respond to God and our world. It’s part of how we were created—with an aesthetic gene, if you will. But although their responses and areas of expertise vary, all arts faculty share a passion for their particular art, and they share that passion with their students, helping them develop their skills and sensitivities.

Music professor Karen De Mol describes the joy of making something expressive that is “outside of words.” She says, “There is no end to nuance in music, and probably the other arts as well, so engagement in the arts is always fresh”—and to her, an enjoyable, communal, and beautiful part of her life.

De Mol recalls hearing a conversation between two students a few years back. One talked at length about choosing to be a musician because of the way music exhibits form and balance, relates to culture, embodies different approaches to the aesthetic life, and expresses different cultural values. The other looked at him in amazement and said, “I choose to be in music because music sounds so good!” Music and the arts have room for both kinds of artists.